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Alice Walker: Palestinian Oppression Is "More Brutal" Than the Jim Crow South

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Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)

Marking the 30th anniversary of The Color Purple‘s release, Alice Walker sat down with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! for a wide-ranging interview.

She talked eloquently about racism. About global violence against women. About Obama’s presidency and the contemporary America in which she lives.

However, perhaps the most striking segment of the interview was when Goodman began probing Walker’s contemporary role as a prominent Middle East peace activist, on her role in bringing Palestinian suffering to light.

This is how Walker begins:

[I]t’s just horrible to see the treatment of the people. I mean, the checkpoints are dreadful. We went through some of them. And the way the Palestinians are treated is so reminiscent of the way black people were treated in the South when I was growing up. And it’s an intolerable situation. And that our country backs this treatment by standing with Israel through thick and thin is just unbearable.

Later in the interview, Walker goes further after being pressed by Goodman on the parallels she often makes between the South and Israel’s occupation:

AMY GOODMAN:You make comparisons to the South. Talk about your growing up and about your family.

ALICE WALKER: Well, my family was a poor farming family, and we lived under absolute segregation. Although, even though, you know, all of the hotels and the motels and the restaurants and the water fountains, all those things were segregated, we didn’t have segregated roads, which you do have in the Occupied Territories, roads that only Jewish settlers can use, and the Palestinians have these little tracks, you know, these little paths, often, you know, obstructed by boulders. And that is how they’re supposed to move around, for the most part. And the unfairness of it is so much like the South. It’s so much like the South of, you know, I don’t know, 50 years ago, really, and actually more brutal, because in Palestine so many more people are wounded, shot, killed, imprisoned. You know, there are thousands of Palestinians in prison virtually for no reason.

Walker’s words are important because they are, in many respects, true. When Walker says that the checkpoints are “dreadful,” and that the way Palestinians are treated reminds her of the way blacks were treated in the Old South, she’s not being bombastic. For the daily humiliation and constriction Palestinians face are intolerable, as the documentary Hard Crossings shows fully.

And when Walker states that thousands of Palestinians are in jail for no reason, she’s close to truth, for Palestinians face life under a military system that utilizes indefinite detention on a regular basis. As Noam Sheizaf of +972 Magazine reports:

At any given moment, hundreds of Palestinians are held by Israel without trial, with no charges filed against them, and without the ability to defend themselves against non-existent charges. In short, they are simply thrown into prison for a period of up to six months, which can be renewed indefinitely.

[...]

Administrative detention exist in other countries, but is considered a unique and exceptional measure, and its implementation usually leads to a vigorous public debate. In the West Bank, it’s routine. Over the years, Israel has held thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention for periods ranging from a few months to several years. Eighty of the Palestinians held under administrative arrest – some 26 percent of the detainees – have been held for six months to one year; another 88 people (about 28.5 percent) from one to two years. Sixteen Palestinians have been in administrative detention continuously for two to four and a half years, and one man has been held for over five years.

And when Walker says that life for the Palestinians is “more brutal” than it was for blacks in the Old South, there is truth in her words, as this recent video of border police ambushing and kicking a young child demonstrates (which is tame in comparison to the many disturbing, graphic videos available).

Now, some may critique Walker for her choosing to focus on Palestinian issues. Some may create false equivalencies or attempt misdirections, noting her focus on Palestinian issues as others in the world suffer – an argument that is an implicit anti-Semitism charge.

Some will bring up the word terrorism – something I know a bit about – justifying Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians on past acts of terror from militant extremists that mainstream Palestinians and Palestinian politicians have denounced. They will bring up the word ignoring the fact that nonviolent protest has become the normative and most powerful force amongst Palestinians today.

There will be those who lob such critiques. However, they will do nothing to change the truth of her words.

One may say, “So what? Who cares what Walker has to say on this issue?”

My answer is this: when a prominent American personality exposes the realities of life for Palestinians – a reality that largely goes unnoticed in the mainstream U.S. media – it’s an important step in changing public opinion on the matter. For Israel is an integral American ally which receives billions of dollars every year, dollars that Americans shell out annually in their taxes.

It’s important for public opinion to change, for only such a shift can change the way in which politicians are forced, for political expediency, to view the issue. And only such a shift can lead to the one force which may be capable of ending Israel’s occupation: real, meaningful American pushback.

Israel’s internal mechanisms cannot stop what is happening on its own. And many progressive Jews, like myself, who still believe in a two-state solution also understand that the occupation may end up leading to Israel’s demise.

And so I celebrate Walker’s efforts. Efforts meant not to demonize, but to revolutionize. Efforts meant to change one of the most inequitable situations that has persisted for too long.

Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG

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